Legislative Wrap-Up: Solving the Wrong Problems
During the regular session of the 93rd General Assembly, we had the chance to chip away at some of our most glaring problems. Problems like consistently poor voter turnout, weak standing in the ranks of public education, and rising violent crime rates. Efforts to pass meaningful legislation to address these concerns were stifled; instead, we added laws to our books that perpetuate these problems.
Solving the Wrong Problems – Violent Crime: Fourth-Highest Rate
Arkansas has the fourth-highest violent crime rate in the nation. Based on legislation passed by lawmakers this session, the solution to this problem is allowing more criminals to possess weapons and a shoot-first, ask-later approach.
SB24 (Act 250) repealed any obligation a person had to retreat from potential harm before using deadly force. This "stand your ground" measure makes it legal for individuals to kill someone that makes them feel threatened.
As I pointed out when this bill was on the floor, these types of stand your ground measures only lead to more death. Similar bills passed in other parts of the United States have resulted in an increase in firearm homicides. They have not had any statistically significant effect on other types of violent crime.
This bill signals to people that it is okay to escalate a situation into a deadly conflict instead of encouraging them to pursue a peaceful solution. These laws don't work. They lead to more violence.
The controversial Arkansas Sovereignty Act will also lead to more violence, as it attempts to nullify federal gun laws and paves the way for felons to possess weapons. It punishes law enforcement officials for upholding gun-related federal laws. Making it easier for violent criminals to own weapons will certainly not help the state's violent crime rate.
There were attempts by some during the session to reduce the violent crime rate in Arkansas.
HB1953 would have prohibited anyone convicted of a misdemeanor offense involving domestic violence from possessing a firearm. Offenses included domestic violence against a family member and the use of physical force or the threatened use of a deadly weapon against a family or household member.
Given the majority's eagerness to put guns in the hands of violent felons, a measure keeping guns out of the hands of out violent husbands was dead on arrival.
So, too, was SB3.
SB3, had it passed, would have allowed victims of violent hate crimes to get the justice they deserve. The hate crimes measure, which was among the first bills filed before the session started, would have created a 20 percent sentencing enhancement for offenses committed due to victim's race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability, or service in U.S. Armed Forces.
The measure would have also required the quarterly reporting of hate crimes across the state. Entering the session, Arkansas was one of only three states to have a hate crimes law on the books. Despite a bipartisan effort that included the Governor, as well as positive input from some of the state's largest organizations and businesses, the bill never got a chance.